If you are taking a stroll just like that in the little side alleys of Varanasi I think it’s hard to ponder what you are going through actually. Damn! That will be another hard day for you when you wake up with the divine aroma of cowdung instead of a cup of flavoured tea. That’s where the word HOLY $]-[!T comes from… I guess!!! I was high on leaves so I could say that I liked each and every bit of Banaras on my day trip. I will never recommend you to explore the world’s holiest city, ‘Varanasi’, like I travelled as a lazy dozy pot swan. But it’s true that you need to be to the core to understand the calls of ‘har-har Mahadev’ throughout the quaint alleys of the city, you need to have the deepest concern for the mighty cow and its cowdung, you need to pour buckets of emotions to feel the burning rhythm along the ghats and you need not to be sarcastic when you come across the naked naga sadhu doing yoga. Well… blame it on Varanasi as after getting bit high I was way far beyond any religion. It was quite interesting to seek the strange naked ritual practices of the naga sadhu. I will say that I was lucky enough to visit Varanasi at the time of Shivratri, which is one of the major religious festivals in India. Check out from the following video as shot by ‘Bocaronda’, a glimpse of some naked sadhus performing at the time of Shivratri 2007.
[Naga sadhus performing at the time of Shivratri]
Varanasi is believed to be the oldest city in India in the history of Hinduism. The doctrine of spiritualism of the spectacle called Hindu religion is rather a complex scenario in the era of iPhone. People today hardly correlate their day to day life with strange superstitious notions BUT the Banaras backdrop is very much contrasting. I’ve heard even from international travellers, ‘die in Varanasi and you are straight away to heaven’. It was an ancient crosscut form of qualifying for heaven no matter what comes in life after dying in Varanasi… whether you are flying with white feathers with some pretty angels OR being barbequed for a sumptuous meal for the devil. This strange belief still surpasses as according to legend, Varanasi was founded by the Lord Shiva and it is also stated that the Pandavas have visited the city in search of Shiva to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brāhmanahatya that they had committed during the climactic Kurukshetra war.
I’m not that much pious to make this travel blog a sacred apologue… rather I’m keen onto keep it to an urban legend. Still the history and myth behind the Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Shiva is worth mentioning. This temple complex, located on the bank of the Ganges, is one of the important Hindu temples and one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Shiva temples that is visited by thousands of pilgrims throughout the day. Within the temple complex lies the main temple with three domes each made up of pure gold. There are several other shrines surrounding the main shrines that are dedicated to other Hindu deities. The history of this temple is quite whelming as well as glaring. It was demolished several times after the invasion of the Delhi Sultanate in the 12th century and later by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669. The present temple structure was later constructed in 1840 by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore and the Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated the gold for the temple.
I was rather more interested to capture the vigorous and vibrant events happening along the bank than devoting my time at the aarti inside the temple. The best thing was pilgrims taking a holy dip in the Ganges. It is believed that bathing in the Ganges at Varanasi washes away all your sins. So let’s check out from the below video how many sinners washed away their sins and now living a blessed life. LOL! The following video is credited to wildfilmsindia.com.
[Pilgrims taking ritual bath in the Ganga]
Another most exciting part on my trip to Varanasi was the boat ride in the sacred river Ganga. I think that’s the only way you can explore the best Varanasi ghats… from cremation to people taking holy dip and from Surya Namaskar to evening aarti, you can frame all such events and emotions. The ‘burning ghats of Banaras’, as remarked by some travellers, are truly obtrusive from the mid of the Ganges. Here is one of the best travel videos of Varanasi as shot by “tvboy61” on boat ride on the Ganga River.
[The Manikarnika Ghat…]
One of the most popular attractions in Varanasi is the Ramnagar Fort, which was built in 1750 by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh. It is located right on the eastern bank of the Ganga River and one can even take a glimpse of its huge ramparts on their boat ride. The fort represents the typical Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards and pavilions. Today… only a part of it is open for the tourists. It houses a well stocked museum that displays a rare collection of American vintage cars, bejeweled sedan chairs, ivory work, medieval costumes, gold and silver brocaded royal Palanquins, armours and antiques. Here is an impressive video on Ramnagar Fort as captured by Karunanidhi Nagarajan during his trip to Banaras.
Close to Dasaswamedh Ghat you will come across two other attractions of Varanasi… the Jantar Mantar, which is an observatory built by Jai Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur in the year 1737, AND his palace that lies adjacent to it. The Dasaswamedh Ghat, on the other hand, is said to be the oldest ghat of Varanasi. It is also close to the Kashi Viswanath Temple. Some other prominent attractions nearby are the Gyanvapi Mosque, Alamgiri Mosque, Ganj-e-Shaheedan Mosque and Chaukhamba Mosque. Let’s have a glimpse of some of the attractions in Banaras from this following video as shot by Joop Modderkolk.
[Attractions in Varanasi]
I was quite surprised to see some Jain Temples in Varanasi along the ghats. Well… legend says that Banaras is the birthplace of three Jain Tirthankars. The Digambar Jain Temple in Bhelupur is the major Jain pilgrimage site in Varanasi that also arrests the mind of tourists. The Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan is yet another must visit place in Varanasi. Although I couldn’t afford much time to explore these places in details but I hope from the following video you will get a better picture on one of the Jain temples. This video is shot be wildfilmsindia.
By evening I was exhausted but still I could smell the cow dung alleys calling me. Having said all this, I must say that how congested the streets are… people here still respect cows to such an extent that they could only request the animal politely to not to shamelessly gobble up the fruits that they have painstakingly arranged at their shops for the purpose of commercial gain. If you are taking a stroll in one of the alleys you will surely come across a wide picture that is occupied with local people, bicycles, dogs and cows and not to miss the friendly greeting of ‘Ka Ho Bhaiya’ and the famous Paan of Benaras. You have got lot to experience when you step in the city’s clamour. Check out this below video on the side streets of Varanasi as taken from the lense of “Nodding Cat Channel”.
[Exploring the side streets of Varanasi]
Before I conclude this travel-videologue I would like to recommend all the travel enthusiasts not to miss Sarnath on their visit to Varanasi. Sarnath is one of the significant Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and spoke the first sermon. It is approximately 13 kilometers away from Varanasi and houses a vast natural gallery of ancient Buddhist stupas… some of which are of pre-Ashokan period. The prominent structures that still exist are the Dhamek Stupa, Dharmarajika Stupa, Chaukhandi Stupa and Ashoka Pillar. The Temple of the Tibetan community in Sarnath is one of the modern architectural buildings that witness thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from India and other countries like Thailand, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Here is a nice video on Sarnath as filmed by XYZ.
I’m quite sure that you will experience an offbeat and quaint atmosphere in Varanasi… even being one of the popular cities in India. But remember don’t be high on leaves rather stick to Gangajal. Although I got an elaborate picture on the cultural clamour for that particular time on my visit BUT trust me… I could hardly recollect some interesting stories after I reaching back home.